Coronavirus: Primary care practices still not at pre-pandemic levels

September 24, 2020

The condition of primary care has been improving modestly, but 35 percent are still seeing revenue and pay lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Primary care practices in the U.S. are still reeling from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey.

The survey was performed by the Larry A. Green Center and the Primary Care Collaborative between Sept. 4 and 8. It is the 19th in the organizations’ series of weekly surveys seeking to give snapshots of the pandemic’s impact on primary care practices.

It found that 35 percent of respondents say their revenue and pay are still significantly lower than they were before the onset of the pandemic despite modest improvements over the past few weeks. A further one-third of respondents report their financial picture has improved, but the workforce is still fragile and in trouble with one in five practices reporting they have had clinicians who have retired early or left their job due to the pandemic.

“An overwhelming number of clinicians – 81% – disagree emphatically with the notion that primary care has rebounded,” Rebecca Etz, PhD, co-director of The Larry A. Green Center, says in a news release distributed with the results of the survey.. “Practice clinicians and staff are working longer hours to keep up with patient needs and still have yet to reach pre-pandemic capacity. Significant furloughs, practice members out for child and elder care, and clinicians out due to illness and self-quarantine have caused the primary care platform to shrink. The past six months have shown us what short-term planning and lack of investment yields during times of crisis – devastation of a critical workforce. But the question is now: Are we committed enough to do something about it?”

As telehealth has expanded, only 10 percent of respondents say that their practice’s use of telehealth is below what would be helpful, while more than a quarter say that the use of telehealth is “above what seems good medicine,” but they must use it to maintain patient volumes. Only 18 percent reported that insurers have pulled back on funding telehealth, according to the survey.

Equipment shortages are still plaguing the landscape with 30 percent reporting difficulty obtaining COVID-19 testing supplies and 26 percent of respondents saying they are having difficulty procuring personal protective equipment, the survey says.

Respondents are also still feeling the mental strain of the pandemic with 49 percent reporting their mental exhaustion is at an all-time high, but they continue to endure as one in five say that their “sense of purpose in primary care is at an all-time high.”